Putin: ‘Oi, Europe, you’re a bunch of poofs’

Plus: The actor in Stroke of Luck who's ripe to play Brian Sewell

15 February 2014

9:00 AM

15 February 2014

9:00 AM

Sochi 2014

Hope Theatre, until 28 February

Stroke of Luck

Park, until 2 March

Sochi 2014 is the least wintry Winter Olympics ever. Yes, there’s a bit of downhill shimmying going on in the slalom. And a few figure skaters are pirouetting around the rink. Midair daredevils, with their feet lashed to planks of bendy plastic, are performing spectacular twirls and somersaults and crashes. And there are speed freaks on tea trays racing down ice-packed gulleys in tribute to the Hadron Collider. But the real action is off-piste and off-chute. It’s a political grudge match. Two implacable foes are angrily denouncing each other as shameful and perverted barbarians.

The Hope Theatre’s verbatim drama, Sochi 2014, taps into this febrile mood with a documentary history of gay Russia since the collapse of the Soviet empire. At first all was rosy. When the Russians finally emerged from beneath the commie jackboot, they welcomed homosexuality as an emblem of freedom and openness. Gay people could stroll around Moscow hand-in-hand, unmolested, in the early 1990s. But with the rise of Putin, the clouds darkened. Homosexuals were identified as an internal enemy and used to divert attention from Russia’s economic woes.

In this brief and gripping drama there are accounts of gay-bashing and gay murder that harrow the senses more horribly than anything I can recall hearing. The script also has astute political antennae and reveals Putin as a master of public rhetoric. He exploits anti-gay sentiment by eliding it with Russia’s traditional mistrust and envy of Europe. Everyone in the European Union, claims Putin, is gay. Our continent is riddled with infertile and unChristian pederasts who have no interest in children except as sex toys. Incapable of procreating, we rely on an army of migrants to keep our economy on the boil but their presence now threatens our bloodline. This conflation of half-truth and wishful thinking delivers huge political benefits. By defining himself against an all-gay EU, Putin can pose as the champion of Russian nationalism, of Christian virtue, of family values, of racial purity, of Darwinian manliness, of economic dynamism and of child protection. That’s a potent list of hot-button issues and he sustains it very cheaply with one brutal insult: ‘Oi, Europe, you’re a bunch of poofs, right?’ To detach Russia from this popular and politically lucrative falsehood won’t be easy. Sochi is a start.

Stroke of Luck, at Park, is the world première of a strange chameleon play that keeps changing its colours. It opens as a formulaic comedy. Lester Riley, a crippled widower, announces his plan to marry his sexy young nurse. This threatens to deprive his grown-up children of their inheritance. The characters are crudely drawn. Lester is a charming dimwit, his three kids are hard-nosed graspers. Not the sort you’d invite round to dinner. The eldest son is a mean-eyed Gekko-ish lawyer. His younger brother is a paranoid jailbird. And their woe-stricken sister is a widow whose husband bought it in a ski-ing disaster. His Alpine crumple-up has left her with enough phobias to fill a medical encyclopaedia. Battle commences as the greedy nippers face up to their besotted dad and his beautiful bride, who is Japanese and claims to be a Catholic. (This bit of whimsy is characteristic of the play’s rather forced quirkiness.)

The script then takes a scenic diversion. We explore the Riley family past. Lester, it turns out, is sitting on a fortune. He worked as a TV technician for a family of gangsters who rewarded his services with so much loot that he opened a private investment fund and multiplied his income many times over. He’s a multimillionaire TV repairman. Not very likely but at least it intensifies the dramatic tussle for his legacy. The play is fun (kind of) and moving (sort of), but I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying it until the final revelation. This felt like a complete swizz, which erased all the foregoing action at a stroke.

The cast struggles bravely with a cumbersome set that features five hinged flats, 20ft-high, arranged adjacently. That’s right: 20ft-high. Doesn’t sound too tricky? Imagine entering your bathroom by opening a door as tall as a double-decker bus. The star, Tim Piggott-Smith, plays Lester with a winning blend of guile and dippiness but an actor of his powers is misspent on this frothy and uncertain play. Age has amplified the depth and interest of his face. He has a long and ruminative skull with inscrutable little eyes, ruddy jowls, and a woolly mane of receding white hair. He looks, all in all, like a scholarly and slightly quizzical sheep. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to Brian Sewell, whose autobiography is ripe for dramatisation. The day cannot be far off when Piggott-Smith will impersonate the great art historian. I can’t wait to hear the voice.

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Show comments
  • pp22pp

    My father was gay and gay bashing is a sin, but in many respects Putin is right and you are wrong, morally and logically.

  • Baron

    There’re gays like Starkey, next door Douglas, Rupert Everett, one of Baron’s best friends … gays the blue veined barbarian would be honoured to have a pint with, then there’re those mostly assembled in this ghastly outfit Stonewall, who cannot help it to display their preference for the same sex 24/7, insist everyone admires them for it, need never ending reassuring that they’re ‘normal’.

    And as for Russia, what pi$$es Baron is that people visit the country for five minutes, attend a biased show, mix the sensation with their progressive delusion and, voila, they are an expert on the country. Gays could have walked hand in hand in post bolshevik Russia for about the same time it takes to touch hands, not more. And when did Putin blame homosexuals for the country’s ‘economic woes’? What the guy said the last thing Russia needed was a growing army of gays what with her declining population. Not an insignificant emphasis. Fancy that neither you nor any other pro-gay scribbler has ever mentioned it.

    • Tom

      //display their preference for the same sex 24/7//

      Isn’t wearing a gold band on your ring finger a display of one’s marriage status? And, if you believe that marriage is a sexual relationship, such a band is a display of sexual desire. Prior to civil partnerships and same sex marriage, such a ring signified heterosexual attachment. Seems odd to criticise gay people for doing something that almost every married heterosexual does every minute of every day.

      //What the guy said the last thing Russia needed was a growing army of gays what with her declining population. //

      In which case, perhaps he should also focus some of his attention on celibate nuns, priests, and monks that will never contribute children to the Russian population? And, given that the pro-homosexual West still maintains a population of only about 2% homosexual, despite not censoring pro-gay speech, it doesn’t seem an entirely realistic fear of Mr Putin’s that allowing pro-gay speech will result in a dramatic increase in the number of gay people.

      • Baron

        Tom, good points except that Baron didn’t mean trinkets, but every day behaviour, the need to be recognized as gay at whatever cost as if anybody really cared.

        What is banned in Russia is the promotion of gay sex for those below the age of 18, anything else ain’t illegal. Why does this bother people like you and Lloyd, shouldn’t you rather go after those rulers and countries that hang gays? More to the point, the population at large leans far more against gays than the officialdom, trust Baron, he knows, he’s been there.

        And you right about nuns, priests, but this phylum of people has been a part of the country’s tradition, open gayness has never been in vogue there, not in the Tzars’ days, and only for awhile when the Bolsheviks were running the country.

        • Tom

          What everyday behaviour did you have in mind? Walking down the street holding your partners hand? Of pecking
          them on the cheak in the supermarket?

          Actually, the promotion law is and has been interpreted to cover even non-sexual relations, things like dating and other romantic nonsexual activities, so it doesn’t just cover gay sex. It also prevents the dissemination of the view that homosexuality is not wrong, which is a social and, arguably, a political view. I know of no exception to the law which says that liberal parents can tell their children that homosexuality is not wrong? Tell me, are you in favour of the State dictating what parents can and cannot teach their children? Isn’t it a parental right to send your children to a school to be taught liberal social views, if you so wish? This ‘promotion’ law bans that.

          The law also is interpreted to ban public demonstrations that articulate the view that homosexuality is not wrong, and that laws treating it as inferior to heterosexuality should be struck out. If you are someone who supports freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, how could you support such a ban? That you may not agree with the demonstrators opinion on that matter ought to be irrelevant.

          And, one can criticise one thing without supporting or ignoring another. See, for example, the many cases of Christians complaining about the UK being hostile to their views, while Christians in other countries are killed.

          I know perfectly well that a large proportion of the Russian population hates gays. So what? A large proportion of the population in Muslim majority countries might hate apostates, doesn’t mean that censoring apostates is the right thing to do. Or do you believe that might makes right?

          In which case, Putin is being inconsistent. If primary concern is promoting high birth rates, and minimising childlessness, then concerns like local precedent should be irrelevant. And, as I say, there is no evidence that pro-gay speech increases the number of gay people.

  • Cyril Sneer

    You can certainly understand Putins aversion to western liberal gaydom.